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Denis Hamlett is glad New York Red Bulls’ Kaku Watch is over

Denis Hamlett chats with the media about the whole process of bringing Kaku to the club.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC v Chivas USA
The Red Bulls Sporting Director was patient throughthe whole process.
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The New York Red Bulls have a pretty consistent approach to player transfers: say nothing until the deal is done. It’s not every club’s policy, but it’s the one RBNY prefers. That say-nothing policy was sorely tested over the nearly 60 days it took from the moment Club Atletico Huracan announced Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra was a Red Bull to the moment the Red Bulls officially declared they had got their man.

What became known as #KakuWatch was recorded more or less in real time on Twitter by Fernando Gonzalez and MLS Mulitplex’s Liam Pettit has provided a handy summary of events. But now the watch is over, RBNY can weigh in to the conversation and...well, keeping quiet about something for almost two months leaves you with a lot to say: the Red Bulls won’t stop talking about the one-that-nearly-got-away.

The Red Bulls should be promoting their new signing: Kaku cost RBNY a reported $6.25 million ($5 million transfer fee and the rest to cover taxes and additional expenses) and $50,000 in General Allocation Money (MLS payroll vouchers, in effect) to Atlanta United, which had first claim to the player’s MLS rights. Even before it took two months to reel him in, Kaku was set to be among the biggest deals RBNY has ever made for a player: his transfer fee is thought to be the largest the team has ever paid (and the next largest in the public domain is around $2 million paid for Gonzalo Veron).

KakuWatch might have been excruciating at times, but that was mostly because it was potentially wonderful. Since aligning themselves with Red Bull Global Soccer’s RalfBall masterplan, RBNY has made something of a fetish of thriftiness in the transfer market. There’s no guarantee that a multi-million dollar signing will bring instant success - and that rather is the point of RalfBall’s reluctance to join the transfer market bidding wars - but spending money on players is one of the more reliable measures of a soccer club’s ambition. No one can say the Red Bulls aren’t spending money on players with a $5-or-6-million-dollar man on their roster.

So a justifiably pleased RBNY can finally talk about the big winter-window acquisition that almost never was. Sporting Director Denis Hamlett opened himself up to a conversation with media on Saturday, February 17, to further the chatter about Kaku and clarify one or two matters that - until now - the Red Bulls hadn’t allowed themselves to talk about.

For example: yes, it was a bit of an effort to get the transfer over the finish line. Hamlett first attempted to suggest that perhaps #KakuWatch was mostly a misunderstanding over the length of time it takes to get paperwork squared away:

“When dealing with clubs outside of the USA - they don’t really understand the way our league is set up: all contracts are finalized by the league, and they have the last say on it,” Hamlett told the press on a conference call. “There were a lot of hoops we had to jump through and it gets a little tricky, but at the end we finally got our guy.”

Having said that, however, he went on to admit that the process was one that did require RBNY to stay in close contact with Huracan - i.e. it wasn’t all on MLS’ faulty fax machines.

We were never dismayed with the situation because we had great communication with the President of Huracan and others involved - so at the end of the day we got our guy. We couldn’t control all the things that were being put out there. All we could focus on was our constant communication with the player, with the President of the club, and make sure we stayed on track.

Now Kaku is here, however, he’ll be straight into the first-team and the business of winning matches and trophies for RBNY, right? Not so fast, said Hamlett - who doesn’t pick the team, after all.

I think he came here and was concentrating on the process of getting through the physical and the signing of the contract, but when he will be available? He missed a chunk of the preseason, he hasn’t played since December, he’s been out for a while. We have to be smart and mindful to make sure we bring him along the right way. It’s a long season.

Translation: you’ll know Kaku is ready to play when he pops up on the team sheet; until then, be patient. The Red Bulls like to do things the Red Bull way: on the field, that is a fast-and-furious, high-pressing, controlled-chaos style of play; off the field, it means a methodical, steady and often tight-lipped approach to managing the squad.

So we’ll have to wait to see when Kaku is judged ready to take the field and trust it will be sooner rather than later. And we’ll have to wait to see whether his arrival signals the arrival of a freer-spending RBNY, or if this year’s big-splash in the transfer market will be the exception to the Red Bulls’ generally thrifty ways. Asked whether RBNY was back among the big-spenders in MLS, Hamlett deftly dodged the question:

For us it’s about getting the right player we think can come in here and help out team compete for championships - that’s the most important part of it. For us the main focus was on finding that player that fits our style that we think can be a difference-maker.

What Hamlett was able to say with some confidence was that the club put its back into identifying and securing Kaku and is very happy with its newest recruit.

“We all knew the soccer part was there,” he said about the outcome of RBNY’s initial scouting. But a process that stretched back to a meeting with Red Bull scout Scott Pearson in September 2017 - when Hamlett outlined the team’s player needs and asked for options to be found - was not completed until the Red Bulls sporting director and coach had been to Argentina to see Kaku for themselves and also had the chance to talk with him: “We knew he was the right one as he ticked all the boxes,” said Hamlett of a player who clearly aced his interview.

As we closed out the conference call I had to ask Hamlett about the club’s opening games in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League. On February 22, the team will be in Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional to play Honduran side CD Olimpia - since the Honduran club is serving a six-match ban from its home field due to crowd trouble in last year’s CONCACAF League.

“It’s going to be awesome for me as I get to go home,” said Hamlett, who was born in Costa Rica. “Obviously, it’s never an easy situation to play games of that magnitude with no fans - it will be different to say the least, and our guys are concentrating on it, but I can assure you it’s better to be playing at a neutral site than playing in Honduras.”

The Red Bulls season starts on February 22, and while they may not have Kaku match-ready in time for the season-opener in CCL, they can at least take some confidence from having successfully overcome their greatest challenge of the off-season.